Ministry Bits Returns Aug. 4

That's right, Ministry Bits will be back August 7. We still have the same old feed so you can just search iTunes or your favorite podcatcher and listen or re-listen to some old episodes, some of which have aged incredibly well.

I heard from so many people about how the podcast helped them with technology, so I'm bringing it back. The reason why it left in the first place? Well, in a sense, time. I just didn't have the time to dedicate to it like I wanted. But I miss it, and I want to help as many people as I can make their ministries better with technology.

mb_returns.jpg

How to Use Ulysses for Bible Study

Chris Bowler over at The Sweet Setup is blowing my everloving mind. What he's done is exactly what I'd like to do - have my own notes and my own database all in one place, locally accessed by my app of choice, in this case - Ulysses.

It would be a lot of work to get all the Biblical text into one app (it's over 800,000 words, but it is just plain text, after all), but I think to have everything in one place would be amazing.

How to use Ulysses for long-term research - The Sweet Setup >

Great Changes to The Site

Sometimes I feel as if I may have neglected my site here. With the amount of content I've produced over the last 3 years here, I make no changes to the site at all and do not write any articles and I still average over 200 views a week. That's not bad considering I'm not offering up regular content.

But what if I did? I decided this week to change that. No, this isn't an April Fool's joke. No, I'm not going to try to write an article every day, and no, I'm not looking to "expand my brand" or make any money - I just want to share my knowledge and thoughts with you, for free. I hope to bring you 2-3 high quality posts a week from now on.

I have so many people that ask me about tech stuff on a daily basis, and I love it. Not because it makes me feel popular, but because I'm hopefully helping people and making their lives easier.

That's what I hope this personal site of mine has been and what it will become more of in the future. A place for people to make their lives easier. So it was time for renewal. A revamp.

You'll notice the slight redesign. I wanted the content to be king - I wanted you to be able to find what you need when you need it. There's a Search bar for this site right on the sidebar now for that very purpose. There's lots of content already on my site - so take another look around if you haven't recently.

You'll also notice some new sections and pages. Some are super-nerdy like Taskpaper, and others are more practical like some of my Resource pages. I hope you can find what you need, no matter what you're looking for.

You'll find something else really cool: my Reading List. I've hacked together a Pinboard + Instapaper + IFTTT workflow to allow you to essentially see a real-time feed of what I'm reading. Anytime I save an article to read, it will pop up on the top of that page. Pretty neat, huh?

UPDATE: Now you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter, a summary of posts throughout the week, plus some extra goodies.

I hope that my site will become even more of a destination to read
some great things about technology, ministry, and spirituality. I hope that it will help people. Most importantly, I hope it's just one more way that I can glorify God With my talents.

What's in Your Mac's MenuBar?

A MenuBar is that bar at the top of your Mac's screen. Sometimes, apps like to stick shortcuts and helpful tools in the MenuBar to help you access features faster or see relevant information at a glance. It's super-Mac-nerdy, but here's a look at some apps and utilities that I'm using in my Mac's menubar.

First off, a disclaimer. My Mac's MenuBar never looks like this. This is far too cluttered and long for me, so I use the excellent Bartender 2 to make my MenuBar look like this:

Bartender allows me to have a pullout "drawer" with a keyboard shortcut so I can have easy access to some of my apps and utilities without having to have my entire MenuBar cluttered.

F.lux. First from left to right is F.lux, a free utility that changes the temperature of your Mac's screen, a lot like the new Night Shift feature for iOS 9.3 which just shipped last week. Basically, it eases strain on your eyes at night time by removing the blue light that's emitted from the screen. Blue light is the light that signals your brain to wake up in the morning, and the orange-red sunlight is the light that signals your brain to tell you that the day is done. Theoretically, F.lux should help you sleep better if you do lots of late-night work. I know Night Shift on iOS has helped me sleep better for sure.  

Screens. Screens in popular VNC client that I use to access  several computers and work remotely on them from my main Mac or iPad. Screens is excellent at this, and let's you connect remotely to those computers in a fast and easy way with great design on the app. I do lots of video compression that takes a long time sometimes and it's nice to be able to do that on another computer that I don't have physical access to. If you need to use multiple computers, Screens is the way to go. 

StatsBar. This is a cool little app that allows you to see a myriad of into at a glance. I can see my machine's memory, disk usage, and CPU usage all in one little pane, just like a pretty version of Activity Monitor. Similar apps like Menumeters do the same thing, but I've found Statsbar to be the one I stuck with. 

Adobe. Adobe's icon is pretty useful, but only when you need to update your apps in your Creative Cloud. 

Transporter. I have a File Transporter sitting on my desk - it's basically like your own private Dropbox for syncing files. 

Unclutter. This is a neat utility where it lives like a drawer coming from the top of your screen. Simply go up to the top of your screen and scroll down with two fingers on your trackpad like you're scrolling down an internet page, and you are presented with a helpful drawer divided into three sections: Pinned Files, Clipboard History, and Notes. Very helpful in switching between apps as well. 

Droplr. In the battle between file sharing and URL shorteners, Droplr is the king. It won out over CloudApp for me because of its feature set. I've paid for the premium plan for over a year now and love it. I pay $99/year and can have uploads up to 2GB in size, have custom domain branding and a custom downloads page. If you find yourself sharing big files on a regular basis and needing to share them with others, Droplr is for you. 

Copied. Not pictured (because I don't have it as an icon in the menubar) is Copied, a very helpful utility that functions a lot like Droplr except just for text and images. Their iOS apps are also pretty great. 

1Password. Couldn't live without this password manager. I manage a bunch of websites for people, and I have all of my sensitive information and passwords locked inside of 1Password. I've never found anything comparable, and I would highly recommend it. 

ItsyCal. This is an older calendar utility - but I just love it. Lots of people swear by Fantastical, but IstyCal works great for me. 

Dropbox. The linchpin of my entire operation. Couldn't do work without it. 

NoSleep. There was a time when I hooked my 13-inch Macbook up to an external monitor, and NoSleep helped me keep my Mac on while the lid was shut. Simple and free. 

System Icons. The rest of the icons in my menubar are system-level ones that I keep handy to get info or make changes quickly. I keep AirPlay there because I'm usually always listening to podcasts or music through my Bose Soundlink, as well connecting to Apple TVs here at the church building to present in classes and such. I keep the Keyboard icon there because I'm so often looking for special characters. Sound is self-explanatory. I still use Time Machine as a secondary "easy" backup but still make images of my entire computer every month using SuperDuper. I keep Bluetooth up there to keep connected to my Apple Wireless keyboard that I love typing on as well as Bluetooth speakers. I keep my Clock on military time because, well, that's the only way a sane person would do it. 

So I hope this has helped - I hope you'll share your MenuBar with me as well and have it featured here on the site. Cheers!

 

Effective Apps & Resources for Youth Ministry

Below are the notes for my lecture I gave at Faulkner at their Youth & Family Summit on February 29, 2016. 

A few notes before we begin:

  • Isaiah 44.9–20 – don’t make your tech an idol
  • People shouldn’t say “Wow that was a great presentation” - they should say “He or she really brought that passage to life”
  • Don’t ever let your tech speak louder than the Word.
  • God used people - Moses and Joshua and Jesus and Paul - he didn’t use an app to spread the Gospel
  • If your focus is on your PowerPoint and not pointing kids to the Gospel, you need to reevaluate your preparation
  • My process: [1] Look at the Word, [2] Write my lesson, [3] Add in any technology.

Bible Study / Apps

  • TheBible.org app / greattreasures.org (it ain’t pretty but it works!)
  • Logos Bible Software
  • YouVersion (YouVersion Live interactive notes)
  • Faithlife Study Bible
  • Accordance
  • ESV Bible

Resources

  • AdventuresInMinistry.com
  • AIM Series
  • Ministry Bits podcast
  • Active Digital Parenting
  • Start2Finish
  • Wes McAdams
  • The Bible Project on YouTube
  • The Youth Cartel
  • YFC.net
  • Download Youth Ministry
  • The Source for YM
  • Youth Ministry 360
  • The Clues Brothers (escape games from Andrew and Philip Jenkins)
  • Open.Lifechurch.tv

Reasearch and Writing

  • Editorial for iOS
  • Byword for iOS
  • Apple Notes for iOS
  • Copied for iOS
  • Simplenote
  • Evernote (good app but not recommended)
  • Microsoft OneNote

Social Media

  • Instagram (fastest growing social network in the world)
  • Flow for Instagram (nice UI, multiple accounts, iPad app)
  • Tweetbot for Mac / iOS (great Twitter client, multiple accts)
  • Fenix for Twitter for Android
  • Tweetdeck for Mac (multiple accts)
  • Buffer (time-deliver posts, multiple accts)
  • SaveFrom.net
  • Adobe Post
  • Adobe Clip

Graphics

  • Canva for iOS
  • Gimp
  • Photoshop + Lightroom subscription (9.99/mo)
  • Pixelmator for Mac

Organization

  • MinHub Youth for iOS
  • Microsoft Excel or OneNote
  • Dropbox
  • Postagram
  • Ink Cards
  • Wunderlist
  • 2Do
  • Omnifocus

Websites / Mobile Apps

  • Squarespace
  • Hover
  • Clover sites
  • Subsplash

Organization

  • MinHub Youth for iOS
  • Microsoft Excel or OneNote
  • Dropbox
  • Postagram
  • Ink Cards
  • Wunderlist
  • 2Do
  • Omnifocus

Markdown Cheat Sheet

If you've listened to Ministry Bits for any amount of time and you have read anything about how I like to handle text, you'll know that I love to write in Markdown. And Beegit has an excellent little cheat sheet I saw today for help in writing simpler and better.

Markdown is a simple way of styling plain text. So instead of having a .txt file, you will have a .md file that can be styled yet still be opened with any app, virtually forever. The short story is that I write in plain text/markdown because I can open the same files ten years from now. All the things I've written in MS Word in high school are completely inaccessible now, and I don't like that.

Markdwon is easy. For example, putting a single hashtag (#) before a heading makes it an H1 heading, the biggest heading. Putting two hashtags makes it an H2, a slightly smaller heading that can be used as a subheading. One asterisk indicates italics while two asterisks tells you it's bold.

Go ahead and check out Beegit's Markdown Cheat Sheet and fire up your favorite text editor (I love Brackets for Mac) and get started with Markdown today. Write simpler, write better.

As A Minister: Why You Should Care About What Apple Said This Week

Monday in San Francisco, Apple kicked off WWDC, their Worldwide Developers Conference. As a minister, why should you care about such things? I'll give you few reasons why. 

The iPad is Changing. There may be some new products on the horizon, i.e. the rumored 12-inch iPad Pro, but even without that announcement yesterday (Apple has since stopped making major product announcements at WWDC and stuck to developer stuff), the iPad is changing. 

There was some stuff demoed that we will see with iOS 9 in the Fall that is amazing - it's what the iPad should have been all along. If you're a minister and you use the iPad on a daily basis, you're going to be impressed with what Apple is doing. 

Two of the biggest things on the iPad - working with text and multitasking - have been completely redone. Now you can have two apps running side-by-side in tandem and resize the windows. This isn't a revolutionary thing - Samsung has been doing it with tablets and even phones for a while now - but it's wonderful to have on the iPad. Now you can have two Bible apps open at the same time, or an internet site open in Safari on the left and a writing app on the right. Pretty sweet stuff. 

The other is text selection. We preachers live in text. At least I do. And Apple has designed an intuitive form of text selection that nearly looks like a trackpad. You can depress two fingers on the keyboard and zip around to highlight text and move your cursor. Very cool. Much faster than dragging your finger in just the right spot and getting frustrated when it goes below the line you wanted it to. 

The Mac isn't changing. I say that because Yosemite was a complete redesign of OSX, and yes, it has more bugs than an abandoned hotel. But this release, named OSX El Capitan (named for a rock face in Yosemite National Park...Leopard > Snow Leopard, Lion > Mountain Lion, Yosemite > El Capitan). El Capitan is focusing on performance and stablity, so in effect, Apple is slowing down the on new features in order to make the current ones work much better. 

Search on iOS is getting better. Universal search on iOS is going to be much better thanks to deeper integration. What does this mean? It means you can find more stuff that you need quicker. Siri will be lots more useful, a la Google Now on Android devices. Siri is more intelligent too - you can say "Show me photos from Florida last October" and it can fetch those photos, provided you have them synced in the new Photos app. 

 The new Notes app. 

The new Notes app. 

Notes I can now finally recommend. The built-in Notes is an app that lots of ministers I know use a lot just to jot down things they come across. Notes wasn't very functional or useful in my opinio. You couldn't style text or insert pictures. Now you can. Not only that, the app has been redesigned for all platforms - iPhone, iPad, and the Mac. And it syncs via iCloud so you don't have to worry about it. I still think there are better note-taking apps for your phone and tablet - Drafts, Editorial, and Simplenote to name a few - but Apple is really making strides with the app that 75% of their users use because it's just there

This was only a few things that Apple announced of many, but these things will continue to improve my experience on iOS and the Mac and I know as ministers it will benefit you as well. 

Spark by Readdle Wins the Battle for iOS Email

Let's just face it: email stinks. But Spark by Readdle hopes to make you like your email again. 

Ever since Apple opened up iOS a few years ago to include third-party email clients, there have been no shortage of good and sometimes great email apps. Mailbox was pretty great and promised to help you blaze through your email. Dispatch offered nerd and customization options and hoped to triage your email. Entirely new email services like Google Inbox took a slightly different approach to email - categorizing by type and offering a super-simplified interface. Other email clients such as Cloudmagic offered to help you manage many email accounts easily while offering an outstanding UI. 

Spark by Readdle offers all that, and more. 

This is not Readdle's first rodeo into productivity on iOS, not by a long shot. Readdle is one of the first (if not the first) with productivity apps for iOS. They were making productivity apps for iOS before it was even called iOS. They have an impressive catalog of apps that help you manage notes, documents and calendars. In fact, if you follow me you'll know that Calendars 5 has been my default calendar app of choice for over a year now on iOS. 

So when Merlin Mann began talking about "an impressive email app by Readdle" in some of his recent podcasts, I immediately contacted Readdle PR to see if I could get a sneak peek. And to my pleasant surprise, they obliged. 

I've only had a few extra days with Spark, now publicly available as of this morning, but it is a truly great iOS email app. Here's some reasons why. 

Swipe to delete, snooze, and pin for quick email triage. If you do email of any kind, you probably get a lot of stuff you don't want and just a few things a day that you do. Spark doesn't vary much from other clients like Cloudmagic, Inbox, or Mailbox in that it lets you swipe quickly to get through your email in a flash. Other mail clients offer this, sure, but Spark has implemented lessons learned from other apps very well. 

Most important stuff at the top. New emails, emails you've deemed important by pinning them stay at the top until you move them. Read emails automatically go to another section once you've tapped out of them. 

Multiple inbox support is wonderful. Managing multiple email accounts, even getting them to display inline in your inbox is no problem for Spark. Adding new accounts is easy, and you can set individual settings and notifications for each account. 

Nicely formatted message threads. Hate getting those emails back and forth from the same person and seeing all that nasty formatting? Me too. That's a thing of the past with Spark. The app is very innovative by cleaning up all the junk and letting you see your message thread in a nicely formatted way. 

Game-changing searching. I'm a big Gmail archiver, and I want to be able to get info from an email anytime I want. Spark's search is really great. But here's the kicker - it's not just search, it's smart search, based on your natural language. For instance, if I wanted to find all the attachments from grayer.com email addresses, that's what I would type - "all emails with attachments from grayer.com emails" - and Spark finds it. This is incredible to me and a game-changer. I'm always needing to find what I need but don't know exactly where to find it, so this natural language and fuzzy search is fantastic. 

These are just a few of the reasons why Spark by Readdle will be my default email app for the forseeable future. This was, by no means, a comprehensive review - for that, you need to hit up Federico Viticci's review at MacStories - but I hope I've given you enough to just go try this free email app on the iPhone. It's a fantastic 1.0 product, and with Readdle's track record, it will only get better and better.